Sevenoaks Nature Reserve is a beautiful natural environment. Our vision for the new Nature and Wellbeing Centre is that the surroundings are the focus of any architectural intervention and the role of the new centre is to heighten the sensory experience of the existing habitat. Our proposal weaves into the nature reserve setting in a simple, effective way, making best use of the existing building footprint and infrastructure. The design takes the visitor on a journey, using the new buildings as a gateway to connect architecture and nature.
The overall journey from the moment of arrival at the reserve has been carefully considered. The car park is intentionally separated from the building so that visitors can begin to immerse themselves in nature before arriving at the Centre. The buildings are hidden between the trees and the main entrance is announced with a new tall tapered structure clad in charred timber that celebrates the local Kentish oast house. It provides a sense of arrival and acts as a visual reference point and gateway to the reserve. Within its deep walls, nesting places for small birds are hidden and natural light floods the space from above, gently lighting the entrance space below.
Our proposal has three concepts at its heart:
The core of the building is welcoming cafe that provides stunning views across the lakes towards the nesting islands. A place to sit and relax in nature with a good cup of tea and healthy food from the fully equipped kitchen.
The centre has a large hall space to handle school trips and can be rented out by local organisations for conferences or events.
The Sevenoaks Visitor Centre is a building with health and wellbeing inherently at it's heart – it brings people together to interact in and with one of Kent's most popular natural landscapes. Material choice, natural light, air quality and carefully composed views of nature all contribute to a healthy environment. By integrating the walking trails and bird watching into the building we encourage visitors to leave the centre and gain the benefit of walking outdoors.
Local practitioners can rent out treatment rooms with their own miniature shop-fronts, and Yoga classes are held in the calm and simple studio overlooking the lake.
Re-purposing the existing building and using low-embodied energy construction materials reduces the environmental impact of the scheme. Simple high impact, low cost technologies are used to provide heating and reduce electricity needs. The centre integrates into the existing surrounds with new planting and becomes a habitat in itself, filled with bird boxes that support the migrating birds that visit the area.
The centre is a vehicle for educating visitors about the benefits to be gained from nature, as well as our responsibilities towards it. An exciting and engaging permanent exhibition is created from the existing collection, and the entrance space houses seasonal displays and travelling exhibitions.